Annual Sacco and Vanzetti Memorial Service to be held Aug. 23
SPRINGFIELD – The Hampden County Chapter of the Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty, in association with the Catholic Charities Agency of the Springfield Diocese, will sponsor a memorial service on Thursday, Aug. 23 to mark the wrongful executions of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.
Aug. 23 will be the 85th anniversary of the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1927. The memorial service will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Bishop Marshall Center of St. Michael’s Cathedral, at the corner of State and Elliott streets in Springfield, to commemorate the date and to build opposition to the restoration of the death penalty in Massachusetts.
The event, which has been held annually since 1991, also will honor two individuals, who have worked for the abolition of the death penalty.
The main speaker will be Attorney William C. Newman of Northampton, director of the Western Regional Office of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. He is a partner in the firm of Lesser, Newman and Nasser, and is a graduate of Antioch College and Northeastern School of Law.
Attorney Newman has had a long career of active promotion and defense of civil liberties and civil rights issues. He is a member of the Massachusetts Bar, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Lawyers Guild. He has been the director of the Western Regional Office of the American Civil Liberties Union since 1987.
The Ken Childs Award will be given this year to Saul Finestone, chairman of the Hampden County Chapter of Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty. Finestone is a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II. He graduated from St. Anselm’s College and has a master’s degree in education from Boston State College. He has long been active in progressive political actions with Sinai Temple, the Longmeadow Council on Aging, and the Longmeadow Democratic Town Committee. After 33 years of dedicated service, he is now a retired public school teacher. Since 1990, he has been the leader of the Hampden County Chapter of Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty.
The musical group “Red Valley Fog” will provide musical entertainment.
The Bishop Marshall Center at St. Michael’s Cathedral, is air conditioned and is located at the corner of State and Elliott Streets in Springfield. There will be free public parking available. The general public is invited. Refreshments will be served.
Background of the Sacco and Vanzetti Case
Most students of this controversial case regard the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti as a classic example of the injustice inherent in the application of the death penalty. The death penalty, unlike life imprisonment, does not allow for the correction of a mistaken conviction of an innocent person.
The executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, in the reactionary period of the "Red Scare" during the 1920s, were based on their ethnic backgrounds and their political beliefs, rather than on any decent definition of a just, legal proceeding.
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian immigrants. Sacco was a shoemaker and Vanzetti was a fish peddler. Both men were anarchists; they believed that government was an unnecessary evil that should be abolished. This was a political philosophy, which was (and is) protected by the First Amendment.
In April 1920, five armed men in a car robbed a shoe company in South Braintree, Mass. The paymaster and his guard were murdered. In May, the police arrested Sacco and Vanzetti. They were carrying pistols when arrested and made false statements to the police when they were interrogated. However, neither had a criminal record, and none of the stolen money showed up in their possession.
The behavior of the trial judge and the prosecutor frequently evidenced bias and prejudice. In 1921, Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty of murder and robbery and sentenced to death.
Mass demonstrations to prevent their executions were held by defense committees, civil liberties groups and sympathetic people throughout the United States, Europe and Latin America.
Despite legal appeals, the verdict of the lower court was upheld, and on Aug. 23, 1927, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed by electrocution by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The truth in the case is still being debated. Defenders of Sacco and Vanzetti charge that the trial was unfair; the evidence was flimsy, at best circumstantial; and that they were really convicted for their political views, not for robbery and murder.
To this day, many people still have a reasonable doubt as to their guilt.